In a world rich with diversity, the way we treat our youngest members — especially those with disabilities — sets the tone for a more inclusive and understanding society. I was recently made aware a situation at the local PCYC, where a close friend of mine, with her 4yr old daughter a little girl who just happens to have Trisomy 21, was excluded from a kindergym class, a situation that serves as a stark reminder of the detrimental impact, exclusion due to disability, can have on impressionable minds.

The Ripple Effect of Exclusion

When children with disabilities are excluded, the message sent is not just to the child, but to their peers and the community at large. It suggests that being different is a barrier to participation, fostering a culture of division rather than unity. For the child, this rejection can lead to feelings of inadequacy, lowered self-esteem, and a sense of isolation.

It’s not just about missing a class; it’s about being denied the fundamental experience of belonging and growth.The psychological impact can be profound. Early experiences shape our worldview, and repeated experiences of exclusion can imprint a narrative of limitation and inferiority in young minds. This not only hampers their personal development but also diminishes their willingness to engage in new experiences, potentially stunting their growth and exploration of their full potential.

Asking Before Assuming

One of the core issues with this situation at the PCYC was the lack of inquiry. Without knowing the individual capabilities and history of the child, a judgment was made solely based on a label, a label given by someone who didn’t even know the child.

This approach overlooks the unique strengths and abilities each child possesses, irrespective of their disability.

Asking questions is the bridge to understanding. It allows for a more nuanced and informed decision-making process, one that can accommodate and adapt to the needs of all participants. Had the staff inquired about the child’s previous kindergym experience or her performance in a mainstream preschool, they might have seen a different picture — one of capability and possibility and of course absolute sunshine in a smile.

Creating Change Through Education

The path to change lies in education and awareness. As much as this situation can initiate emotions of anger and complete disbelief, education must be at the forefront when faced with such situations.  Organisations and individuals alike must be equipped with the knowledge and empathy to understand and support those with disabilities. Training programs, workshops, and awareness campaigns are essential tools in cultivating an environment where diversity is not just accepted but celebrated.

Inclusivity in community spaces like gyms, schools, and playgrounds is critical. These are the arenas where children learn to interact with the world around them. By fostering inclusive environments, we teach our children the values of acceptance, empathy, and respect for diversity.

So lets now imagine a different scenario, a situation where seeking first to understand is at the forefront of everything we do.

Fostering Inclusivity: How Questions Lead to Understanding and Empathy

Imagine a scenario where curiosity and compassion lead the way in our interactions, especially in settings like community centers or educational programs. In such a world, when a parent approaches an organisation with a request to include their child with a disability, the response is guided by inquiry, empathy and a genuine interest for understanding.

In this alternate scenario, when a mother enquires about a kindergym class for her daughter, the team member at the reception chooses to ask questions rather than make assumptions. This simple act of asking, opens up a pathway for understanding and connection.

Asking questions to create connection

The team member’s questions are thoughtful and open-ended, seeking to learn about the child’s previous experiences, interests, and any specific needs that could be accommodated. The conversation is marked by a genuine desire to understand and include, rather than exclude based on preconceived notions.

Through this dialogue, the team member learns that the child has participated in similar activities before and is currently attending a mainstream preschool. This information allows the staff to see the child not just as a diagnosis but as an individual with unique abilities and potential.

Knowledge is Power

Empowered with this knowledge, the team member then consults with the program instructors, discussing how they can adapt their approach to ensure the child’s inclusion. The instructors are open and willing to make reasonable adjustments if required to their teaching methods and the class environment to accommodate the child’s needs, should there be any, in this particular situation there wasn’t.

As a result, the child is welcomed into the kindergym class. In the class, she finds an environment that is not only accepting but also supportive and adaptive to her learning style. The instructors and other children in the class learn from this experience as well, gaining a deeper understanding of empathy, diversity, and inclusivity.

The mother, witnessing this positive response, feels a sense of relief and gratitude. She sees her child being valued and included, an experience that reinforces her belief in the goodness and potential for understanding in her community.

This approach leads to a ripple effect of positive outcomes. The child benefits from the social interaction, physical activity, and the joy of being part of a group. The staff and instructors enrich their professional and personal experiences by learning how to effectively support diverse needs. Other children in the class gain an early and invaluable lesson in empathy and acceptance.

Embracing Inclusivity through Inquiry

This scenario illustrates how the simple act of asking questions and seeking to understand can lead to more inclusive and enriching experiences for everyone involved. It shows that when we approach situations with an open heart and mind, we create opportunities for connection, learning, and growth. This is the foundation for building a more inclusive society, where every individual, regardless of their abilities, is valued and given the chance to thrive. Creating the safe space, where even the smallest voice is heard.

A Call for Action

The incident at the PCYC is a call to action for all of us. It’s a reminder to question our assumptions, to seek understanding before passing judgment, and to advocate for inclusive practices in all community spaces. Let’s take this as an opportunity to educate, to raise awareness, and to ensure that no child feels the sting of exclusion based on their abilities or disabilities. In doing so, we not only uplift those with disabilities but enrich our entire community with the principles of diversity and inclusion.

At the end of the day, she is just a little girl, wanting to have fun and play and who are we to get in the way of fun!


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